Utica Greens

Back during my senior year in college, every Monday we’d head down to Cavallo’s Restaurant for their all-you-can-eat pasta special. I want to say it was the ridiculous price of $1.50 per person (when I did a quick Google search, I was thrilled to see the place was still there, although the special now $2.49). What more could hungry college students on a limited budget want? But periodically we’d branch out and try new things. That’s the first time I remember trying Utica Greens. For years, I tried to explain this dish to my family and was met with complete resistance to bringing it to our table. Flash forward to this summer, when we ordered take out from our favorite local Italian restaurant and I decided to get a side order of greens. My husband was so intrigued and once he took a taste, he was hooked. So finally I could head to the kitchen and get cooking!

What are Utica Greens? From what I’ve read, they’re a variation of Southern Italian Sautéed Greens – a dish made to make the most of common ingredients around the kitchen and stretch the grocery budget. They’re spicy perfection.

1 bunch of escarole, chopped
1/2 cup prosciutto
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic (bashed and chopped)
5 hot, pickled peppers, chopped*
1/2 cup chicken stock (or less)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used an Italian blend)
1/4 cup freshly-grated Asiago cheese

*You can use more peppers, or fewer, depending on your tolerance for spice. I had no idea how easy they are to pickle – bring one cup water, one cup white vinegar, 1 tbsp each of sugar and salt . Once it comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the peppers (if they’re whole, just pierce them to get the pickling liquid in there), seep for about 10 minutes.

Blanch the escarole for a couple minutes in salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat some olive oil in a broiler-proof pan then add the prosciutto and onions. Once the onions are soft, add the peppers and garlic and let them cook through. Add the greens back in and add some stock if it isn’t juicy enough (I only used about a quarter of a cup). Top with the panko and cheese, and broil until the top is toasty brown.

I serve them with just meatballs in sauce. Honestly, you don’t even need pasta to walk away from the table full and happy! It was perfection on a plate and brought up so many wonderful memories of nights with friends at Cavallo’s.

What are some of your favorite nostalgic dishes? Whatever they are, may you enjoy them in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Fall is in the air! And the weather is certainly turning cooler so I’m returning to indoor cooking; remembering some of our favorite dinners and trying some new dishes.

I love a good breakfast for dinner sometimes. These ham and cheese stuffed hash brown waffles never fail to be a hit.

The key is making sure the frozen hash browns are completely thawed and as much water is squeezed out as possible (which can be pretty messy). Toss a full bag of thawed potatoes with half a stick of melted butter, salt, pepper and dill. I have a four-slice waffle maker, so I put half a cup of the potatoes in each section, add some diced ham and cheddar and top with another quarter cup of potatoes. It will take a good 15-20 minutes to get them nice and crispy brown. The other key is to make sure the waffle iron is really well sprayed. Otherwise, they’ll be almost impossible to remove!

I serve them with some sour cream or applesauce on the side.

My favorite local grocery store now has rotisserie turkey breasts which are seasoned to perfection (and if we’re being honest, a better deal than the rotisserie chicken!). All I had to do was find the perfect sides to accompany the turkey.

So I made a quick zucchini gratin with Asiago cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic and rosemary olive oil. When the zucchini was tender, I added some panko breadcrumbs and fried onions and returned it to the oven till the top was browned.

The fingerling potatoes had a similar flavor profile: olive oil, garlic, and oregano. After about 15 minutes in the air fryer, I added some chopped mushrooms and a slice of chopped bacon, finishing it off for another 5 minutes or so.

While we’re sorry to see summer is coming to an end, I have to confess fall is my favorite season and I can’t wait to re-discover some of our favorites while finding new dishes to share. What’s your best-loved taste of fall? Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well my friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

I very dutifully create a menu planning our dinners each week before heading to the grocery store, but honestly, sometimes I just get distracted and go off script. Sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes an overabundance of an ingredient calling my name, sometimes what I planned, I’m just not feeling on cook day! That’s exactly what happened this past week when I switched things up to make stuffed peppers and chicken, bacon, ranch grilled flatbreads.

I cannot resist loading up on fresh peppers during this time of year. Sometimes I get a little too enthused and end up with an entire vegetable bin of them! So stuffed peppers are my go-to way to make sure they all get used. I cook up some basmati rice, brown some ground beef or turkey with diced onion & minced garlic, then add tomatoes (yes, I’m still using up the end of my San Marzano’s). When the rice is done, I add it to the meat mix, tossing with some red wine vinegar and fresh parsley. The last step is to mix in some shredded parmesan. I cut my peppers lengthwise, stuff the mixture in and top with shredded mozzarella or provolone. Put them in a grill pan and grill until the peppers have a nice char and the cheese is melted (and yes, if you look closely at the picture, you’ll see I flipped one over trying to get them on to a serving platter!)

If you are ever looking for a quick and satisfying meal, chicken, bacon, ranch flatbreads are amazing. The bonus is that I typically have all the ingredients on hand (because after all, we’ve planned for an entirely different meal so we don’t want to be running to the grocery store!). Just spread some naan, or your favorite flatbread, with ranch dressing and top with healthy amounts of cooked chicken, chopped tomatoes, cooked bacon, and shredded cheddar. Grill for about five minutes, top with diced scallions, and dinner is served.

What’s your favorite way to transform your planned dinner menu? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

Eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

August has gotten kind of crazy around here. It’s like the calendar flipped and we’re trying to squeeze all the summer things into the month. I’m not complaining – it’s been days filled with amazing weather and the company of good friends. And food of course!

It’s been all about the sides this week. Yellow squash is one of those vegetables that is always plentiful during the summer but it just doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of taste, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to bring out more flavor. This week I finally achieved my goal by adding sweet red peppers, oregano and rosemary-infused olive oil. I grilled it up with some fingerling potatoes (another summer favorite) tossed in garlic and oil. So good.

I grill so much in the summer, that a stormy day tends to throw me off my dinner game. So I went with a beef stir fry (I don’t mind grilling in the rain, but not much of a fan of grilling in a thunderstorm). I always begin with getting some basmati rice cooking then put together the rest (if you have everything prepped ahead of time, dinner will take as long as the rice). A couple lessons I’ve learned along the way is to make sure you cook the beef in batches so they have time to get a nice sear on. Crowding the pan can make the beef tough (and not so pleasant to look at!). And be sure to deglaze the pan after your beef is done so all the browned bits become a part of the cooking of the broccoli. The sauce never turns out the same way twice since I’m always throwing different spices in there. One constant is freshly grated ginger (cut one inch pieces and keep it in the freezer – it will keep longer and using a frozen chunk makes it easy to grate). The final constant is topping with freshly chopped scallions.

How are you enjoying the dog days of summer? No matter how you are, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

What’s Cooking This Week

In my Misfits Market box this week was perhaps the biggest eggplant I’d ever seen! I typically make eggplant parmesan the usual way of breading and either baking or air frying, but it’s grilling season so I got thinking of ways to replicate the flavor on the grill (I’d experimented before but there was just something about this edition that won hands down). Simply put, it was amazing and we never missed the breading one bit.

I sliced the eggplant, sprinkled it with sea salt and let it sit on paper towels for a couple hours to let the water drain out of it (making sure it doesn’t get soggy while cooking). Then I brushed it with rosemary-infused olive oil and sprinkled with pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. I grilled it for about 5 minutes a side just to get some good flavor and marks on it.

I had a pot of sauce on the stove, so I threw some in a foil pan, added the grilled eggplant slices, and topped with mozzarella and asiago cheese (my new cheese obsession because I love the bite of it) till the sauce was hot and the cheeses were bubbly. Top with some fresh oregano (because that’s what I have in my garden. I would have used basil too if I’d had it!) and serve.

What’s your favorite way to adapt a cold-weather dish to summer? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

Grilled Pork Sandwiches with Pickled Vegetables

I always love a good, hearty sandwich for dinner. (Especially in the summer when we’ve been out and about and spending the day grazing!). For me, the star of this show was the simplified homage to kimchi (which I love but am in the minority in my house). Using the thinly sliced pork chops means it comes together in minutes on the grill if you’ve prepped the veggies before.

Pickled Vegetables

1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 onion (red or white), thinly sliced
1 carrot peeled and grated
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Meat

6 – 8 thinly sliced pork chops
Chinese Five Spice
Black pepper
olive oil

To Finish

4 Ciabatta rolls
Chopped fresh cilantro
Mayo

Combine all the ingredients for the pickled vegetables (a mason jar works perfectly for this). Refrigerate for at least 6 hours to let the flavors combine, shaking periodically to get everything nice and blended.

On cook day, brush the chops with the oil and coat with pepper and the five spice. Grill until barely pink in the center (it will depend on how thin the pork is – the ones I used were super thin and took about 8 minutes total).

For the last minute the pork is grilling, place the rolls cut side down on the grill to toast them lightly. Remove the pork and the rolls from the grill.

To assemble, spread mayo on the rolls, add a layer of pork, a layer of the pickled vegetables and the chopped cilantro. Not a fan of cilantro? Parsley will work as well. The hot debate on my house was the use to cheese slices. I opted to keep it simple!

What’s Cooking This Week

Well it’s been a hot stretch here so we’ve been looking for as many things to cook on the grill as possible! It’s also the time of year where vegetables are amazingly bountiful. Unfortunately, I have no self-control when it comes to picking out what we need for the week from the farmer’s market, so I also have to spend some time thinking of ways to use things up before they go bad! Both of these revelations drove what was on the menu this week.

In the summertime, nothing beats a nice pasta primavera. The challenge is that I always need to incorporate some kind of meat into the mix to keep my household happy. So off to the grill I went over the weekend to grill up my sausage and veggies for the perfect, quick weeknight dinner. I grilled up broccoli, tri-colored carrots, snap peas. mushrooms, and peppers tossed in some olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic. On the side, I also grilled some spicy Italian sausage. On dinner night, I cooked some pasta, and made a sauce of basil, chicken stock, a bit of heavy cream and parmesan. I added my grilled goodness into the sauce to warm through, then tossed everything with the pasta (if the sauce is too thick, I just add a bit of the pasta water). Sprinkle with parsley and a little more parmesan. Perfection.

Our go-to potato side dish this summer has been grilled ranch potatoes. Any kind of potato works (these are russets that I scrubbed and cubed). I tend to cook them for about 15 minutes in the microwave in salted water just to make sure whatever meat I’m grilling doesn’t get overcooked. Add the potatoes to a grill pan, toss with butter, ranch dressing mix and red pepper flakes. Grill for about 10 minutes, add your favorite shredded cheese on top, then grill till the cheese melts. Sprinkle some parsley on top (which is growing like mad in the garden) and enjoy. (Feeling fancy? A sprinkle of bacon never hurts!)

What’s been your go-to beat the heat menu this summer? No matter what it is, enjoy it in good health and with those you love! Eat well my friends.

What’s Cooking This Week

About the only thing I’m good at growing in our garden is herbs. Many of the plants came from a wine and herb event at one of our favorite Finger Lakes wine trails and they’ve just taken off from there. I’ve added a few along the way, but the majority are our original plantings! So this time of year, I love making a simple tomato sauce with fresh oregano to carry us through the week.

The sauce starts by sautéing a medium chopped onion and a few cloves of minced garlic till softened. Add about 1/4 cup of dry red wine, a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, a 14 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste and ton of freshly picked and chopped oregano. Let it simmer for an hour or so just to get all the flavors blended together.

In the winter, I add freshly made meatballs when the sauce is simmering. But in the summer, I add some hot Italian sausage that I cooked on the grill.

Hard as I try, I can’t scale the amount back – it always yields a ton of sauce.

So for dinner this week, I cooked up some rigatoni to serve with the sauce. On the side, I grilled up some eggplant and finished it in the oven with some sauce and smoked provolone cheese. And of course some crusty bread for dipping or to have with some homemade garlic, parmesan butter.

I also used some of the leftovers to make pizza on the grill to round out the week. So good (especially the longer the sauce sits and the flavors come together)

What’s growing in your garden? Whatever it is (or if the local farmer’s market has your favorites), I hope it leads to your favorite seasonal dinners. Eat well my friends!

Parmesan Chicken

This is another family favorite. If I ask for input on what should be on the dinner menu this week, 9 times out of 10, parmesan chicken will be suggested. I don’t mind in the slightest, just don’t tell them! But honestly, this dish has the perfect mix of crispy breading, tang from the mustard and Worcestershire, and the chicken stays super moist.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp of your favorite mustard (I love Dijon or spicy brown)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray. Add the mustard and Worcestershire to the melted butter, stirring well to combine. In a plastic bag, combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan, mixing well. Dip the chicken in the butter mixture, then shake in the crumb mixture to coat evenly. Place each chicken breast in the dish, drizzle with any of the leftover butter mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear. (longer depending on the size of your chicken pieces).

Our favorite sides are russet potatoes tossed in ranch seasoning and olive oil and finished in the air fryer and a simple helping of green beans.

What’s Cooking This Week

Well honestly, not much has been happening in the kitchen between travel, a return to summer events, and graduation season. But one thing that’s been on the menu constantly are two Upstate New York favorites: salt potatoes and chicken spiedies. What are those you may ask? Well let me introduce you!

Salt potatoes are an iconic food in this area (which I didn’t realize till we had family & friends move out of the area – they always ask us to bring some along when we come to visit). They’re small, white potatoes that are boiled in their skins with a TON of salt. The rule of thumb is one cup of salt to 6 cups of water. That’s why packages of the nuggets of joy and pre-packaged salt are found in every grocery store this time of year. All that salt forms an amazing crust on the potatoes while they boil away. They’re served with melted butter (and no, you don’t need any salt on top of them!) They are the perfect side for anything: burgers, chicken, ribs… One caution if you’re going to try them: if they boil over, all that salt makes a complete mess of your stove, counter, and pot, so keep an eye on them.

Chicken spiedies seem to be one of those dishes that I only make in the summer, mainly because the grilling of the meat is key to success. Cubed chicken is marinaded in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and so many amazing spices (oregano, garlic, parsley, basil, salt & pepper). The key to the best chicken spiedie is to let everything marinade over night (ok, sometimes I forget, but a nice 6 hours will work). Because of the acid in the marinade, it will begin softening and breaking down in the refrigerator. Grill on skewers or a grilling tray (so you don’t lose any of the delicious chicken). Serve on crusty rolls (I like toasting them for a bit) They’re perfect on their own, but I also can’t resist topping with grilled peppers and onions.

Time to get planning some meals and get back in the kitchen. What’s an iconic food from your area that you can’t live without?